Connected by a Timeless Tune
`GRUNGE is in. Metal glam is out," my daughter Jessica tells me. Actually, she shouts it into my ear above the talk and the jukebox in the bar.
Metal glam is the old Alice Cooper shtick, where the guys are literally wigged out and have elaborate costumes. Grunge, my daughter explains, is a back-to-earth, basic sort of journey.
The stage lights come on. Jessica clutches my arm. "They're starting. Come stand up front with me."
I am the only person over 30 in the bar, here as my daughter's escort, because she is underage. I follow her and stand in the crowd directly in front of the band.
Music begins and the singer snakes across the stage. He moves with tai-chi grace and lioness intensity. The audience faces the stage and sways like reeds in an odd wind. Their movement is studied, feet flat on the floor, hands in pockets or hanging by their sides.
Movement starts with the head, a nodding, a rhythmic "yes" that affirms and punctuates the guitars and drum. Like a domino effect, the dancing gets more charismatic, catching people's shoulders and chests, so that their upper bodies are quietly undulating. Rows of people, heads tossing, hands in pockets, echo the band with their bodies. The singer stomps the stage as though he is demolishing a persistent cockroach.
It would be easy for me to be unhappy in this smoky, din-filled room. My legs tire from standing, my eyes water from the cigarette fumes, my ears ring from the incessant, demanding sound levels.
It would be easy to say, "This is not music."
But no one can judge another's beat, another's wishful rhythm, another's dance. When I see the animated, laughing faces change instantly to serious contemplation, when I see the passionate way they drink in the song, I want to know more.
What do they hear when they listen?
As a child, I danced to the Peer Gynt suite in my empty living room. I let go of the awkward girl my mother constantly cautioned, and I embraced a sylphlike dancer who carried the music inside her, whose dance was breath, not performance. I wore my mother's old evening dress and tied scarves to my arms to create the illusion of great beauty.
The grunge singer is dressed in a hooded black sweat shirt. His hair is sparse and spiked, his glasses belong to a calculus major. After the third song, he takes off the hood. After song six, he instigates a "midset costume change," which consists of him taking off his black knit cap and replacing it with a backwards baseball cap. My daughter watches, transfixed.
I, too, am transfixed. I can be part of this crowd by simply standing close and nodding my head. It is a stress-free invitation to dance. Many of my friends are scared of dancing, ashamed of their awkward feet. Grunge dancing has solved that. The feet stay like mountains in the wind, and the shoulders dance like eagles on a breeze. The differences that keep all of us in the bar separate shimmer and relax.
"Did you like it?" Jessica asks afterward, as we walk with the crowd out into cold fresh air.
"Yes," I answer, surprised at myself. "But I didn't understand the words. What was he saying?"
"He was just talking," she says, taking my arm.
"Was he talking about sex, politics, drugs?" I ask.
"Just talking," she says, shrugging.
I let go of my need to capture and categorize. These are sounds for the animal within, for the primal spiral of life that floats between us.
I remember, when I was a teenager, my Russian grandmother sitting on our sofa as our family watched the Beatles on television. The music thrilled me, although I knew better than to show my excitement. I sat on the floor, as close to the television as I was allowed, and drank in what was on the screen.
My parents shook their heads.
"Arrhythmic noise," my father said.
"Rubbish," my mother agreed.
My grandmother smiled at me and tapped her fingers discreetly to the music.
Jessica and I walk to our car, unhurried even in the cold. We are tied together in a timeless tune, connected in a way that reaches beyond our family system, beyond the mundane hurts and hollows, into deeper paths.
"Isn't he gorgeous?" Jessica asks, sighing, pressing her face against our car window.
I think of the singer's strong arms, the earnest face, the endless flow of his body. I think of how he poured himself into the audience and asked for nothing in return.
"Yes," I say, "he is."
I am my grandmother's granddaughter, wanting more than words to show myself, more than talk to express my feelings. The more I listen, the closer I come to knowing. I see my daughter's absorption, her passion, and I nod my head, in a moment of music, a moment of love.